You want to change the world, so you work long, tireless hours, your mind never shuts off, and your body never rests. It feels as if your life were burning on both ends of the candlestick, but you can’t seem to let yourself stop.
Was it healthy? No. Was I more productive? Not necessarily.
Here’s the truth. If you want to actually impart change, drive your mission forward, and grow your business, then creating space and stillness in your life must be non-negotiable. To do so requires a mindset shift away from thinking breaks are bad. To turn downtime into a valuable asset, I started to do the following three actions.
Schedule your downtime
Most people think taking breaks is spontaneous, but the best way to stop is to plan accordingly. When nighttime comes around, your circadian rhythm and body know without consciously thinking that it’s time to sleep. You’re training your body and mind to anticipate shutting down. You can impart this same level of shift within your daily or weekly schedule.
Create a routine for your rest. Whether it’s a block of time in the morning, a day during the week, or a few minutes throughout the day, plan time to take a break and stick to it. Every Wednesday and Sunday, for example, I have blocked off time specifically for relaxation and reflection. This has become a non-negotiable in my life in order to instill the habit within my mind and the cycle within my body to unwind. Taking downtime becomes a habit, similar to that of checking email.
The thoughts and ideas that flow through your mind are how you raise your value as a leader. So use moments of pause to bolster your brain’s ability to think stronger and faster.
Take space to allow yourself to think. Focus on an aspect of business that you want to improve. Think about where you want to be and whether you are on the fastest path to get there.
In our society, we have become accustomed to constantly being stimulated and entertained. As a result, we must actively block time to find stillness, and allow these moments of perceived boredom to spark inner dreams and allow creativity to flourish. During this time, hold no judgment of the ideas you come up with.
You don’t need to work 12 grueling hours each day. You need one moment of insight.
Take care of your body
Some of the biggest deterrents to actual wealth creation and success are not resources, investors, or a strong supply chain; it’s your personal health. If you are energized, you are more likely to act and be bold when you experience fear or moments of opportunity. If you have taken care of yourself, you can more easily show up to connect with and support your employees, partners, and customers.
You are the leader within your organization. If something happens to you, everything is compromised. You must take care of yourself as if you are going to be around for a while. During your moments of space, create a wellness routine, navigate your fitness schedule, and give your body, mind, and spirit what it needs most. Some days, this looks like hitting the gym really hard, and other days, it consists of meditating, getting a massage, or reading a book.
Health is a resource that you can always provide to yourself.
Creating space for downtime in your life is necessary. After all, the entrepreneur road isn’t an end goal, it is a way of life. If you want to enjoy it for the long term, you must be willing to pause, reflect, and rejuvenate. It might just land you farther forward than those late nights at the office ever could.
I’m a proud mom to six-year-old twins and also a proud professional with a demanding, deadline-driven solo practice.
Most days – even when I’m not emerging tentatively from a pandemic like a thawing caveperson – it all just feels like a lot.
Indeed, like most working moms, I characterize myself as generally overcommitted and exhausted. But I have a strategy aimed at banishing burnout: I make my own summer Fridays.
For most of my career, I’ve wrapped up work around noon every Friday between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Up until a couple of years ago, this practice was conveniently built into my work life as an employee of various New York City-based media organizations, among which this type of structure is a common employer-sanctioned practice and a well-loved tradition among staff.
When I shifted to the full-time freelance lifestyle in 2019, it was entirely up to me to defend this sacred time from work and errand creep. But by now I’ve learned that doing so is a game-changer for my lifestyle and sense of self, so I create my boundaries.
In order to make it happen, I think of the summer as a whole, rather than looking at each week or day individually.
I get analytical about how much work and what type of work I want to take on in order to keep my summer Friday afternoons free.
Sure, work has a way of bottlenecking sometimes, and some deadlines don’t go as planned. But putting in the effort upfront – setting the intention, as I do – helps lay the groundwork that supports the structure I want.
I’m also an obsessive time manager, so I give myself – and stick to – artificial deadlines early enough that I avoid the potential for a Friday bottleneck.
In most cases, I assign myself deadlines only Monday through Thursday for the work requiring the most brainpower and time commitment – even if that means I’m delivering well ahead of a client’s drop-dead needs.
This, of course, is a good thing: It doesn’t just reduce my own stress on Fridays, but it also has the benefit of making me a favorite freelancer among my clients, and that general approach yields me more income over the course of the whole year (even if it occasionally might mean a bit less during a given week here or there in the summer).
If I’m in town, here’s what I might do on a summer Friday: Take myself to a solo matinee, get a massage, or go for a hike alone with my podcasts.
A post shared by Alesandra (Alice) Dubin (@alicedubin)
Here’s what I don’t do: Return stuff to Target, get a dental cleaning, or accidentally schedule a work meeting.
These few hours when my kids are in school and my husband is at work are reserved for joyful, indulgent, or contemplative activities – not to check stuff off a list. These 12 Friday afternoons provide my only time dedicated for this purpose in a typical year, and I believe they comprise a key pillar of my mental-health strategy.
Summer Fridays take the edge off the rest of the week. And they mean my kids get the best of me – not the smoke-breathing version of me who might be limping out of a week of meetings without having yet had a chance to regroup.
And summer Fridays are a mental-health boon throughout not just these weeks, but the whole year, too: It’s a cherished rhythm I look forward to and that makes me more productive, like a vacation already booked.
“By taking time exclusively for yourself and exclusively for the purpose of bringing pleasure, joy, and comfort into your life, [that’s] actually an act of radical self-compassion,” Leah Rockwell, a licensed professional counselor and founder of Rockwell Wellness, which specializes in therapy for burnout, told Insider.
“Yet for many overworked, overachieving women, it is an amazingly difficult concept to actually integrate into our daily lives,” Rockwell said. “While we might be the first person to rabidly advocate that a girlfriend should do whatever it takes to care for or prioritize herself, many of us cannot extend that same permission to ourselves.”
Rockwell said that by building that permission into my actual schedule, I’m showing myself (and others around me, too) that my emotional wellness is a priority for me. “Why not capitalize on how summer can fortify us?” she added.
Engaging in a relationship with what brings us joy is something that we witness our children do all day long, but we often deny it of ourselves as adults. “By structuring your summer weeks as you are, you’ve invited back into your life the bliss of summer that we often assume that adults just don’t have a right to, yet we inherently long for,” Rockwell said.
Podcast host and bestselling author Gretchen Rubin calls it “designing your summer.”
“You want there to be something special about summer,” she said. “If you don’t actually plan that out or at least be very intentional about it, it’s very easy for days to just slip by.”
Anyone can design their summer – not just people who make their own work hours or have lots of disposable income.
“It’s not about taking massive amounts of time off work,” Rubin said. Rather, it’s an attitude.
Habits and routines have the effect of speeding up time, whereas “time feels rich and slow when things are different,” Rubin said. (That’s why a three-day vacation can feel like a full chapter in our lives.) So to make our lives feel richer and more textured, we must make an effort to do something apart from our seasonally nonspecific routines.
And I need that distinction perhaps now more than ever given how the pandemic presented a seemingly endless stretch of days marked by the unrelenting sameness of staying at home.
As the world opens up again, I’m setting aside both time and headspace for novelty, for variety, for pleasurable personal challenges that stand to make time feel ever so slightly less ephemeral and much more vivid (all while actually fortifying my earning potential all year long).
A lot of moms spend their “day off” just like any other: cleaning up messes and watching the kids. In year’s past, I’ve been that worn-out momma.
For example, there have been many Mother’s Days when after opening my gift and shoveling down breakfast in bed, life would go back to normal, with a deluge of diapers to change and dishes in the sink.
But not this year.
This past Mother’s Day, I skipped the subtle hints and gave myself the one gift I wanted more than anything else: an entire weekend by myself.
No shouting toddlers. No waking up in the middle of the night. No endless list of chores. Just utter quiet and complete solitude. Hour after hour to do whatever I desired.
Fellow working moms, can you even imagine?
Even though Mother’s Day has passed, it’s not too late to coordinate your own escape. While many moms find it difficult to justify leaving their families, taking time and space for ourselves is not only good for us – it’s good for our loved ones, too.
Maybe you’re at a conference for work or maybe it’s a girls’ trip. Or maybe it’s a trip orchestrated solely for the purpose of being away. The point is that you’re not physically there to make dinner or help out with bedtime. You’re mentally unavailable to figure out why the baby is crying or carry the load of remembering to reorder wipes.
Not only does a strategic absence give the primary caretaker a much-needed break, but according to Bueskens, it can generate a “structural and psychological shift in the family” by redistributing some of the work that falls onto one parent by default (typically mom) and requiring the second parent (usually the father) to step up.
Now more than ever, families need to shake up their dynamic
I first wrote about strategic absence back in January 2020 in an article for Elemental, where I bemoaned the fact that the most time I’d taken away from my then-two-year-old were the 24 hours I spent in the hospital giving birth to baby number two.
I was long overdue for what some call a momcation – and was in the works of planning one – when the pandemic hit, adding another 14 months onto the two years I’d already essentially been sheltering in place.
A 2018 survey found the average mother ends up with a mere 30 minutes to herself a day. During the pandemic, you can bet alone time was at an even greater premium – at least it was in my household.
Now that people are vaccinated and travel is a bit safer, I could finally have the time off from mothering that I richly deserved.
The thought of just being in a space by myself for an extended period of time sounded magical: Imagine no one is touching you, shouting in your face, demanding snacks, and crying when you give them exactly what they asked for.
Give yourself a (modest) goal
Beyond leisurely bubble baths and uninterrupted sleep, experts say a strategic absence is time away to pursue other dimensions of yourself.
If you’re a type-A working mom like me – you love your job and don’t get enough uninterrupted time in your everyday life to focus on it – there’s nothing wrong with using your strategic absence to tackle a work project.
My goal for this past Mother’s Day weekend was to make a significant start into a new idea for a book proposal that’d been rattling around my head for months – exactly the kind of thing that requires significant “maker” time.
You want a plan – but don’t feel pressured
No one wants to come back from a vacation feeling like they need a vacation, and a momcation is no different. While you may use the time to be productive, it ought to be restorative as well.
After arriving at my destination, I spent an hour in line at Whole Foods. It started raining, I was cold – I’d forgotten to pack a sweater – and so instead of exploring a new restaurant like I’d intended, I went back to the apartment, zapped a microwave burrito, struggled with the beginning of my book proposal, and went to bed. It was pretty uneventful.
Fortunately, I woke up with a clearer head and zero distractions (the beauty of a strategic absence!), and I got straight to work. By day two, I knew I wasn’t going to end the weekend emailing my agent the 30 perfect pages of prose I’d promised her, but that was OK.
Ignore your buzzing phone
The most important part of a strategic absence is to protect yourself from intruders. Trust me, they will intrude.
A good friend will need to process the fight she’s having with her husband. Your cousin will want to know how your strategic absence is going or talk about where your moms went wrong when you were both kids. If enjoying phone conversations without screaming kids in the background was part of the plan, allow it, but if not, send those calls to voicemail.
The second I arrived and before I even put my bags down, I got a text from my husband complaining I’d overfilled the garbage can. It wasn’t a conversation we needed to have right then, and so I didn’t respond. I checked in with my family every night before bed, but other than that I ignored his messages.
Sure, I felt a little guilty, but they were never an emergency and I knew I wasn’t obligated to respond.
When I got home, my husband admitted that he’d actually enjoyed his time solo-parenting and said that, in some respects, it was easier. This isn’t unusual: Often without the primary parent’s micromanagement, the secondary parental figure develops competences and confidence. Do it often enough, and a strategic absence teaches your kids they can rely on both parents, not just mom.
In the end, I came back feeling more rested, connected to myself, appreciative of my family, and eager for my next escape.
Last year, my internet went down for three weeks. I chatted with customer service agents from Cox Communications, a cable and internet provider which earned more than $12 billion in revenue in 2020, about a dozen times. Each time, a customer service representative told me that they “felt my frustration and anger.” One said, “I hate when this happens, I totally get it.”
The problem is, they did not get it. The reason Cox could take their sweet time fixing my internet was not because life is frustrating and hard, but because they are a monopoly – the only option for broadband service in vast swaths of the United States, and thus have no one competing with them for my money. My internet access was dependent on them, and instead of addressing that problem, they told me they empathized with it.
I thought the experience was a particularly bizarre, but isolated customer service strategy. Until one day I was on the phone with T-Mobile, and the customer service agent said, “You sound sad today, is everything okay?”
Last week, I woke up to an alert from my Chipotle app (sometimes I have a craving for their burritos, don’t judge me) telling me that I should “check in on someone today.”
And the official account for the government of Israel, which recently engaged in a bombing campaign that killed hundreds of Palestinians, tweeted on May 12 that they were having a “difficult night” but appreciated the “messages of support from you guys.” The tweet ended with a heart emoji.
It’s no coincidence that these uber-powerful entities have all settled on language that makes them seem like “healthy living” Instagram influencers. The language of therapy and self help has been co-opted by institutions to distract from their power and sell us on the idea that they’re just like us.
This is not only an attempt to try and get us to forget their misdeeds, it also ruins the language of care built to actually help people, reducing what were once radical tools for survival to a hollow branding strategy.
Emotional branding sells
Corporations use the language of self care and mental health because it makes them money. There’s an entire field of advertising called “emotional marketing” dedicated to helping brands establish personal bonds with consumers. Ads with “emotional pull” are more likely to create loyalty among consumers, and encourage them to buy more.
Emotional manipulation for profit is nothing new. The work of Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, is often considered the blueprint for using psychology to manipulate consumers. He believed that by harnessing psychoanalytic theories of the mind and human behavior, he could subconsciously influence people to do just about anything.
The present-day marketing shift to focus on self care is just a new facet of the emotional branding manipulation corporations use to win over consumer’s hearts – one that matches our era of increased fear, anxiety, and depression.
It makes sense that at a time when depression rates, especially among young people, march steadily higher, and anxiety is present in everything that companies and other powerful institutions would attempt to capture our minds and dollars not through vague concepts of freedom or empowerment, but through the idea of life feeling survivable.
The kids are not alright
Cox and T-Mobile’s faux-empathetic customer service, Chipotle’s “check in on your friends” push notification, and Lululemon insistence that it’s ok not to feel okay hint at the predominant mental problems currently ailing our society: a feeling of constant dread, a sense of isolation and disconnection, and persistent anhedonia – a feeling that, no matter what, even if life feels good on the surface, we do not, in fact, feel okay.
In 2014, the European leftist collective Plan C published a treatise on capitalism and our feelings. They posited that the predominant affect, or feeling, of the mid-1900s was boredom. The hippie and free love movements were a response to this boredom, but so was the advertising created by people like Bernays – exploiting people’s dissatisfaction with a stifling suburban life to sell them the idea of excitement and freedom. Post-2008 financial crisis, according to Plan C, the predominant affect switched to anxiety as jobs disappeared and housing grew precarious.
We are now likely in a new age, one of disconnection and dissociation, spurred by the isolation and overwhelming nature of the internet and the pandemic. We have yet to see what the social response will be to this, but we can already see what advertising’s response has been: to sell us the idea that in an age where we all feel alone, scared, and unable to connect to each other, perhaps our friends at Lululemon, or Cox, or Chipotle can help.
“An act of political warfare”
Beyond the cynicism that this corporate cooptation of care inevitably breeds, it also erases the radical roots of the language. In the 1960s, the concept of care was used by radical Black activists like the Black Panther Party (BPP) to center the wellbeing of people of color in a world that was, and still is, actively hostile to their bodies and minds. The BPP thought taking care of one’s own body, mind, and self image was a necessary response to living in a racist country. In 1988, the Black feminist Audre Lorde wrote that, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
A company – or country engaged in warfare – taking these concepts and using them to their own end disenables us from using this language in any kind of productive way. The phrase “it’s okay to not be okay” might be a good way to view mental health recovery – I had to learn how to apply it to my own life after PTSD wrecked my productivity a few years ago – but now it’s also forever associated with a leggings company, diluting its power.
Corporations tell us it’s okay to not be okay when they are, in large part, the reason we are not okay.
Unfortunately, this corporate version of care has trickled down into how we speak to each other on a daily basis. When the Black Panthers and other radicals preached self care, they did so as part of a toolkit to fight against the material realities of racism and capitalism. Now, concepts of care and empathy float around with no root: Instagram influencers preach self care as they sell us beauty products; Twitter memes tell us that the problem with men is that they simply do not go to therapy, that it’s okay to break plans, and that it’s encouraged to deny people your time and energy when they need help.
We tell each other to take care of ourselves without acknowledging the reasons we need so much care in the first place – the isolation, anxiety, and depression caused by living in 21st-century America.
All of this does not make the very concept of care meaningless, but we must purposefully work to return material meaning to it. And I have no doubt we eventually will.
Bernays realized that people in the mid-1900s were craving freedom and used that realization to sell cigarettes. But then people realized that they needed to truly escape the boredom of the 1950s, and that purchasing things was not the way out. A real movement for Civil Rights – a movement against the white stasis of mid-20th-century America – blossomed. Today, corporations realize people are craving care and connection. They’ve tapped into a real need; but I have to believe it’s only a matter of time before we all see that real need and build a solution to it with our own hands.
I can already see it happening on social media: The language of self care has been re-radicalized, positioned against corporations and capitalism. Accounts like The Nap Ministry are teaching people that their own care is not politically neutral, but a necessary bulwark against productivity-culture burnout. But we now need to take this rhetoric and turn it into action. That could mean forming free-therapy collectives, doing teach-ins about mental healthcare, or providing free meals like the Black Panthers did so families feel less isolated from each other.
At a small scale, these things already exist, but we need to make them a more central part of any radical practice. Otherwise, we risk repeating a daunting cycle of being exhausted, overworked, and made to feel like automatons, leaving the solutions to the corporations and institutions least interested in actually solving them.
You’ve received the standard advice about setting boundaries with the hours you work if you’re now (or have always) worked from home. You’ve read that you should focus on tasks more intentionally by using software that blocks social media and email notifications. You may have even experienced work-life balance for a while.
However, what’s missing from the conversation about work-life balance is the need for self-prioritization in goal setting, work, productivity and the desire to optimize one’s life. Here are three reasons why making yourself a priority is the key and foundation to achieving work-life balance.
1. Burnout stems from a lack of excitement for what you’re pursuing
Do you wake up, look at your to-do list, and verbally cringe? Chances are, most of what you do each day is the same, and the routine is draining you mentally, and by extension, physically.
When you spend day in and day out grinding with no time allotted for fun and all the personal goals you’d like to accomplish – it leads to frustration, bitterness, and burnout. You aren’t excited to work, which diminishes your energy and motivation. The resulting burnout decreases productivity and amplifies excuses.
Work-life balance has to be about balance. But more than figuring out a schedule that works for you, you’ll need to incorporate plenty of “you time.” Your schedule should include moments when you work on hobbies, do fun things, and focus on personal optimization.
If you’re feeling stressed and mentally exhausted when you think about work and your goals, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself when was the last time you did something just for you? You’ll be more productive and develop the ability to work more intentionally when your life doesn’t feel like a burden.
2. The ‘work’ part of work-life balance can’t overtake your identity
When you’re good at what you do, it can be easy to let that become part of your identity. It’s not uncommon for someone who’s been the “boss” at a job or business to have readjustment challenges to changes in their work situation – millions of Americans experienced just that over the past year.
If you tie your identity to your work, you’ll lose balance when life circumstances become unpredictable. Work-life balance starts with you being secure in your non-work priorities and unattachment to circumstances you can’t control.
There are so many experiences of life and moments to be lived beyond work. Work helps you build the financial freedom to experience life, but don’t let it overtake the balance and tie your beliefs about yourself to circumstances that don’t have to define you.
3. You’ll get more done when you work from a place of being complete
Whether you realize it or not, you are the most significant project you’ll ever pursue. When you make your optimization a priority, you’ll be more productive. When you’re excited about life and the opportunity to work, you’ll reduce stress and burnout.
Start with making yourself the priority. Family, friends, coworkers, clients, and anyone else that demands your time and energy should see and respect your boundaries.
Spend time each day with one task, goal or fun experience that’s just for you. If you can do that at the start of your day, you’ll train your mind to understand that you’re the main priority. Do this over time, and you’ll wake up excited for what the day will hold.
As you build the self-prioritization muscle and develop healthy self-care habits, you’ll achieve a work-life balance more sustainably.
After only six weeks of working in his company’s newly purchased office space, Isaac Rudansky, founder and CEO of AdVenture Media Group, sent his employees home to avoid the spread of COVID-19. He lost 35% of his clients in the first three weeks of the pandemic.“I’m actually an optimistic person, but this was a really dark period,” he said. “Oftentimes, when you’re dealing with feelings of depression and stress, it’s impossible to look at a longer horizon.”
So rather than look forward, Rudansky looked back at the past five years. Even through the peaks and valleys, he saw that his life and career had trended in a positive direction. That perspective gave him the confidence to move forward.
As Eve Lewis Prieto, the director of meditation and a mindfulness teacher at Headspace, said, “one of the best things about mindfulness is that it can be applied to every area of your life. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully engaged and present with a soft and open mind, also known as paying attention on purpose.”
As we pass the one-year anniversary of the country entering lockdown, founders shared with Inc. some of the practices that strengthen their mental health and help them stay mindful.
1. Identify what you’re feeling
When she looked at the options to confront her anxiety and burnout as a software engineer, Meha Agrawal, CEO and founder of Silk and Sonder, felt intimidated by therapy and was bored by meditation. Instead, she found that writing was the outlet she needed.
“There are a ton of benefits of bringing pen to paper,” she said. “It alleviates anxiety and stress, and it helps increase IQ and memory. It’s proven to heal trauma.” Agrawal created a journaling routine back in 2017, and soon after, she began developing her subscription-based journal companyto help customers emulate her experience with journaling.
Aaron Sternlicht, a therapist and cofounder of New York City-based Family Addiction Specialist, endorses writing as a way of tracking your emotional mood throughout the day. This practice can help you understand which activities and times of day spark more anxiety, he said. Once you can identify the trigger moments, you can better prepare yourself to respond.
2. Lean on other people
Angela Ficken, a psychotherapist based in Boston, notes that maintaining personal relationships is a constant challenge in a founder’s life. The pandemic has only worsened this, she said, spurring more mental health challenges for founders. In recognizing the importance of community, Agrawal created the Sonder club, an online community where Silk and Sonder users can connect on their wellness journey.
Talking with people can be the best outlet for maintaining your mental well-being, Rudansky said: “It allows a person to express sympathy and empathy for what you’re going through.”
A couple of months ago, he said, one of his executives reached out to him to express that he felt overwhelmed at work. Rather than showing weakness, it showed strength and character, Rudansky said. The two ended up on an hourlong phone call together where they both opened up about their feelings and current struggles.
3. Make time for yourself – and start small
Last month, Tori Farley, cofounder of Better Than Belts, a unisex suspender company, joined a book club and read “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown, which teaches readers how to reorient their mindsets and explores the psychology of authentic living. Farley was hesitant about reading a “quasi-self-help book,” but “When I read it, it just clicked,” she said. “If I want to spend two hours in the morning doing watercolor painting because that is going to make me feel happy for the rest of the day, then that’s what I should do, and I don’t have to start my day by checking my email.”
Even if it’s just a short moment in time, doing something for yourself can help you get out of a workday slump, Farley said. And Ficken adds that the all-or-nothing mentality can be extremely harmful to mental health. If you can’t get in your full workout that day, she said, don’t give up on physical activity. Instead, walk around the perimeter of your house for a little while or even take a few minutes to walk to your kitchen to get some cold water.
Headspace encourages users to start with just three to five minutes a day, Prieto said. “Some days the mind is going to feel really busy and on other days much quieter, so you are not doing anything wrong if you find that it’s taking longer for the mind to settle,” she said. The goal is not to empty the mind, but to be at ease with where you are.
The term self-care has become one of those buzzwords so overused by bloggers, marketers, and influencers that it almost has no authentic meaning left. Everyone from major brands to the mommy bloggers encourage us to use self-care, usually by partaking in one of their products that promises to bring us calm, peace, and mindfulness. Rarely do we get true serenity from a candle or a cookie, but the idea that we need to practice self-care still pushes us to do whatever we can to attain it.
Self-care in its most basic form are things you do to take care of yourself. As working moms, we’ve become conditioned to do everything for others, so the idea that we should do something for ourselves can seem entirely selfish and foreign. But the practice of self-care for working moms is easier said than done. Besides, what is self-care anyway, if not a way to escape?
Time and finances are often factors in any working mom’s decision to take time for herself
When we think of recharging using the self-care method, we often talk ourselves out of it because we don’t have the time or the money to take a spa day, or any other luxury image that’s become synonymous with self-care. And because the meaning of the term has become so trite, we often dismiss the practice entirely.
In an effort to redefine self-care for the working mom, I’ve created a list of ways that we can all practice true love for ourselves, without sacrificing major amounts of time or money. These practices can be incorporated into your everyday life so you can easily take the time to reset your mind, body, and soul, and refill that empty cup.
I know I’m not inspiring a ton of confidence by starting with something so simple, but stay with me.
There was a time in my life when a maternal mental breakdown sent me to the hospital for a week. In the midst of the chaotic moment, I began to have a panic attack as I contemplated what was really happening to me.
The thing that saved me from completely melting down was breathing. In yoga, I’d learned to block out the rest of the world and simply count my breaths as I inhaled and exhaled, and when it mattered the most, I was able to use that practice to calm my entire body.
In the middle of an intense day at work, when your coworkers are being difficult and the boss is being stubborn, or when your kids are all yelling and your partner is wanting your attention, simply take a moment to stop.
Choose a place where you can be alone (when I’m home, that often means hiding in my closet) and sit down. Put a timer on your phone for five minutes. Close your eyes and breathe in to the count of six, and out to the count of six. Count out loud if you need to, to give yourself a noise to focus on.
Give yourself permission to push all other thoughts away (after all, it’s just for five minutes) and just listen to your breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your chest and focus on keeping your breath consistent. If you practice this often enough, the breathing will automatically kick in when you feel tense and stressed, like it did for me.
This may be specific to extroverts like myself, but I’ve found that having a conversation helps me take a break from my stress and indulge in some informal talk therapy.
Some of the best connections I’ve made have started online in a Facebook group for working moms. Instead of just using the platform to just vent (which is totally OK to do!) try using it to connect with other moms. I’ve asked for advice, or shared an interesting article, or even shared a photo of my kids and invited others to share as well.
The great thing about being a member of a group for working moms is that they get what you’re going through. Everything you’re struggling with or take joy in, they likely do too. Connecting with other women in this way can help us make friends, which is definitely a part of taking care of ourselves.
Most days after taking care of my four kids and running my own business, I need time to disconnect. Instead of watching TV or scrolling through social media, I’ve established a form of self-care that truly helps me reset: silence. I sit on my couch and I don’t talk to anyone, and ask that my husband not talk to me, for one hour.
Every working mom deserves time to reset your mind and rest your brain before bed. Make an arrangement with your partner and kids to take one hour to not talk to anyone and then choose an activity that brings you joy.
Try to pick an activity that doesn’t overstimulate your brain, like listening to a podcast or reading a book, and give yourself permission to push everything else aside and enjoy it. If you can, hop in the bath and allow yourself to just melt away for an hour.
I can see many of you rolling your eyes at this suggestion. How is sleep self-care if it’s also a part of simple human existence? But ask yourself: What quality of sleep are you getting?
After eight hours at the office and four hours of homework, dinner, and bedtime routines, working moms often find themselves sprawled out on the couch, mindlessly watching TV or scrolling through social media before we drag ourselves into bed. We get to bed only to run through the mental load we carry, keeping us even later and often leaving us to fall asleep in an anxious manner.
Try instead to give yourself the gift of true rest. Research shows that getting adequate sleep can help you have the energy to manage anxiety, and can increase the positive consolidation of thoughts and memories while we sleep that allows us to be in a sharper, better mood when we’re awake.
Make a commitment to yourself that you will be in bed, sans screen, by 10 or 11 p.m. each night. If true self-care comes from taking care of ourselves, getting adequate sleep should be high on the priority list.
As working moms, we carry so much on our minds and hearts. From our colleagues to our kids, we want everyone in our lives to feel taken care of and happy. Along with the need to make everyone else happy, is ultimately the feeling of guilt when we are unable to achieve this impossible task.
Mommy guilt is a burden we all carry, but how it manifests in our lives is different for everyone. For me, I allowed the guilt to dictate my happiness. I never gave myself permission to be imperfect, or to allow others in my life to feel unsatisfied or disappointed, and my mental health began to deteriorate.
In order to tackle any of the self-care items listed above, you need to allow yourself the time and space to do so. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself and be happy and healthy.
When you’re planning your day, you have the option to choose to do something for yourself. While doing things for your friends and family is generous and kind, you must also be kind and generous with yourself.
This can be as simple as choosing to take a shower instead of cooking an extra time-consuming meal for your kids or partner. Give yourself permission to take 30 minutes to be alone, do something you need to do, and just be.
This often requires us to also forgive ourselves for whatever we feel like we’re failing at (which we are often not doing, but again, mommy guilt) and know that we’re doing the best we can. Forgive yourself for whatever negative thoughts you have and give yourself permission to be a human being with needs and the ability to be imperfect.
Self-care doesn’t have to be complicated or intricate. It can be as simple as doing things to maintain your emotional and mental health so you feel balanced in your everyday life. While treating yourself is definitely needed, true self-care is something we must do regularly to be able to give 100% to our family, friends, and coworkers. It’s a cliche but it’s also true: You can’t give from an empty cup. So fill yours up, and know it’s in the service of not just others, but also in the service of yourself.